Derby County vs Reading preview: Rams face Royals as both search for a play-off place
READING, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Martyn Waghorn of Derby County tackles with Michael Morrison of Reading during the Sky Bet Championship match between Reading and Derby County at Madejski Stadium on December 21, 2019 in Reading, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Phillip Cocu and his Derby County players will be riding high from their victory last week over play-off rivals Millwall as they came away from The Den with a 3-2 victory which has put the Rams only three points outside the play-offs. 

Reading, on the other hand, will be looking to pick themselves back up again after a Nick Powell sucker punch stopped them from gaining all three points at home to Stoke City last week.

The Royals will be hoping for a win at Pride Park to keep any sort of play-off push alive, while Derby will be looking to edge ever closer to Preston North End in sixth place.

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Key Battle

The key battle in this game will be between teenage sensation Louie Sibley and Reading midfield Michael Olise. Sibley netted a hat-trick at Millwall last time out and 18-year-old Olise will be looking to stop the talented attacking midfielder. 

Olise himself has been a breakthrough star for the Royals and has cemented his place in the heart of the midfield. The Frenchman has started the last seven games in all competitions and he may also look to his midfield partner, John Swift, for some help handling the tricky Sibley.

Previous Meeting

The previous meeting at the Madejski Stadium took place in December and it was one of Reading's most comfortable afternoon's of the season. 

Scott Malone saw red for Derby after only four minutes, giving away a penalty in the process which Charlie Adam stuck away comfortably. From then on it was plain-sailing for the hosts as Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite completed the rout and left Cocu and his players feeling blue heading into the Christmas period. 

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Team News

The Rams will be without Jack Marriott who is due to undergo surgery on an ongoing groin injury and also Krystian Bieiik who is expected to be out until October after rupturing his ACL earlier on in the season. 

Tom Huddlestone missed out last week with contract discussions ongoing and there was also no place for Jahmal Hector-Ingram or Jordan Brown, both of which have been training with the squad after good season's for the U23's.

Reading will be without Joao after he came off injured in last week's draw against Stoke. 

Matt Miazga and Andy Yiadom are also both doubts for the game as they recover from hamstring issues. 

Manager's Thoughts

Derby sit only three points outside the play-offs and when asked about the team's play-off chances, Cocu told Derbyshire Live:

"It doesn't change any plans. It is also a long-term thought about the way we work, I think it is positive to see the whole team has developed in a positive way - playing with more consistency, more dominant, and we try to do it every game.

"We only think about the next game, take it one step at a time. Games will come fast, so we will need all the players we have in the squad."

Reading manager Mark Bowen spoke highly of the threat which Derby carry and picked out Wayne Rooney as the Rams' key man when speaking to the Reading website, he said:

“A lot of their play goes through Wayne Rooney; naturally so, because of the talent he’s got. And the young lad Louie Sibley came in and got a hat-trick at the weekend. So we’ve got to keep an eye on him.

“They’ve got ammunition through their side… like we have. I see it as being a fairly balanced game. I was in charge when we met Derby at home a few months ago – we got away with it a bit there, as they got a man sent off and it made it easier for us."